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Gambling 101


History of Gambling

On March 15, 1999 the 611 year-old prohibition on dice games was erased from legislation by the federal government in Ottawa. Richard III originally enforced this law against dice games in the 1380's. He felt his archers were spending too much time playing dice games such as backgammon, and feared that this would be dangerous to the safety of the country.

Gambling is not new to Canada.  In 1497 John Cabot found a Native population that played a variety of games of chance.  These games had meanings that were important to the spiritual, emotional, mental and physical development of Aboriginal nations.  Going back even further, archaeologists have unearthed gaming sticks that date all the way back to 6000 BC.  Every society appears to have accepted gambling, legal or otherwise, in some form or another.

More Recent History

In 1892, the Canadian Criminal Code declared a complete ban on all gambling activities. Over the years, various forms of gambling became legal and a little more than a century later, gambling has become a national pastime. By 2001 Canadian provinces would play host to:

  • 38,652 Video Lottery Terminals at 8309 locations;
  • 31,537 slot machines;
  • 32,932 lottery ticket centres;
  • 1,880 bingo hall permits;
  • 59 permanent casinos;
  • 70 race tracks (20 are "racinos" or race tracks with slot machines) and
  • 107 betting teletheatres.

Here are some more numbers that reflect the growth and importance of the gambling industry in North America: 

  • It is estimated that gambling in the US reached almost $73 billion dollars in 2004.
  • The first permanent casino in Canada was built in Winnipeg in 1989.  By 2003 the number of permanent facilities offering table games, slot machines or both had risen to 76.

In Canada, net revenues from government-run lotteries, video lottery terminals, and casinos rose from $3.2 billion in 1993 to $11.8 billion in 2003. That's a four-fold jump from the $2.7 billion spent in 1992 when governments relied much less on gambling revenues.

Society's Changing Views on Gambling

Society's view of gambling has also gone through an amazing metamorphosis during the last century. There was a time when society viewed gambling as a manifestation of the devil. Morally deemed a sin, it was also an illegal activity, serious enough to warrant time in prison.

On the surface, gambling has presented a glamorous and exciting lifestyle. Although gambling was associated with the rich and the sophisticated, it was also strongly linked to loose morals and organized crime. Related to every kind of excess, gambling had a seedy reputation and, perhaps, that was the appeal. And while this combination of glamour and seediness generated real excitement in people looking for a way to let loose, gambling, as an activity, was still viewed primarily as a vice.

  • Sin:  Prohibition/Gambling is illegal.
  • Vice:  Grudging acceptance/Gambling is geographically isolated.
  • Entertainment:  Linked to positive virtues/Gambling is actively promoted and widespread

During the 1950's, society entered what some might call the Las Vegas era. It was the time of the Rat Pack Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford. Unlike today, when the nearest gaming site might be as close as your local convenience store, legal forms of gambling were confined to what the travel industry designated as destination resort centres. During this time, society exhibited, if not a change in attitude, then a grudging acceptance.

In recent times, however, we have seen a dramatic shift in the manner that society views gambling and how it is delivered. It is now promoted as just another form of adult entertainment and is readily accessible to most citizens.

Technology and Gambling

Anyone who has been watching television over the past year most likely stumbled upon a program or series related to casino gambling.  To name just a few, there is the Travel Channels World Poker Tour, ESPNs World Series of Poker, NBC's Las Vegas and the Discovery Channels American Casino.  There is reason to believe that media interest will grow.  For example, several groups of investors in the U.S. are vying to be the first to market an all-gambling television network. The Washington Times recently reported that officials from the World Poker Tour estimated 100 million people in the U.S. at least occasionally play poker, and that's up from 50 million people about 3 years ago. 

Cell phones that have downloadable gambling games such as blackjack are very popular. Also, with the advent of digital technology there will no doubt be pressure to offer gambling through interactive TV (live bingo, betting on horse racing and sports events, casino style gambling etc).  This trend is already happening in the U.K.  Currently the television gambling market in the UK is estimated to be in the range of  250 million to 500 million and its predicted that this sector will be worth 2.8 billion by 2007.

Internet gambling is of special concern. An Economist.com article recently estimated that there are 1500 gambling websites.  Independent companies located in places like the Cayman Islands operate the vast majority of these sites, but some are now government sponsored.  It is illegal to operate an online gambling enterprise in Canada.  Despite that, the British Columbia Lottery Corporation and the Atlantic Lottery Corporation have started to sell lottery tickets on-line.  Woodbine Racetrack recently started to allow customers access to horse race betting via the Internet.

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